Improving the Learning Experience

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The science behind adult learning has come a long way since the days of reward and punishment experiments. There are now a wide-range of models that identify the different stages we go through when learning a new skill or behavior. Today’s blog will look at some of these models:

Why is this important?

Simply put, if you work in learning and development in any capacity, understanding the adult learning cycle is essential for some of the following reasons:

  • it can significantly enhance your ability to teach others;
  • it can speed up the process of learning new skills and behaviours, enabling peak performance to be achieved quicker;
  • understanding how to reduce the ‘learning dip’ of people involved in change can be invaluable to your organisation;
  • understanding and building on your own learning preferences can significantly improve your own learning ability.

If you are interested and want to no more feel free to get in touch with us at Platinum Training Consultants

Where to start?

From Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, human learning and motivation processes have a long history. For the purpose of this blog we’ll focus on, and attempt to simplify, some of the more modern models.

David Kolb’s Learning Loop (1984)

Kolb was one of the modern day pioneers of adult learning. He introduced a cyclical process of adult learning. This process suggests we go through different stages and use different senses to learn something new.

Fig 1: The ‘learning loop’ (Kolb, 1984)

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Lets try and simplify this and create a working example:

A new manager is having his first experience with staff feedback and performance analysis meetings. His first few sessions are challenging but then he has a very productive meeting. (concrete experience).

The manager takes a moment to consider what he did differently. (reflective observation).

He identified that in this particular meeting he listened more and let the team member talk. (abstract conceptualization).

In the next meeting and beyond he applied this new behavior (practical experimentation) and realized that the ability to listen and not over-control communications lead to better outcomes.

To summarise, Kolb’s model shows that by using the 4-steps the learning experience is more robust and effective. Conversely it also suggests that if we skip one or more of the steps, our learning ability will be significantly reduced.

Take a moment and consider you own experiences of learning. Did you go through the 4-steps?

The evolution of adult learning: Peter Honey and Alan Mumford (1992)

Honey and Mumford (1992) took Kolb’s theory a step further by suggesting that people actually have different learning style preferences. For example, I might prefer to jump straight into a challenge and learn through trail and error, where as you, may prefer to take a back seat, research online, and reflect. The key point being that if I also research and reflect, as well as practice through trail and error, I can learn a skill quicker and better.

Fig 2. Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles:

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Fig 3. We can also clearly connect Kolb’s learning cycle and Honey & Mumford’s learning types.

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Take a moment and consider you own learning journey. Do you have a preference? Where do you start? Do you incorporate the 4 stages into your learning journey?

One of our favorites: Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT Model

 The 4MT system is very similar to Honey and Mumford’s model. Once again it is based on the premise that we each have preferred learning styles and quite often perceive and process information in different ways. McCarthy categorised the learning cycle into 4 distinct stages. Each stage uses a different learning style. If we as learner’s can work through and utilise all stages effectively, we can greatly enhance our learning ability and experience.

Fig 4. The 4MAT Cycle.


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We like this model because, as professional trainers, we can create very effective but simple workshop templates for almost any topic.

Fig 5. 4MAT sample plan based on a facilitating skills workshopScreenshot 2019-02-18 at 10.29.46.png


We’ve only scratched the surface of a complex and very deep area. There are many more writings on the topic. At Platinum we offer various services in this area, from Learning & Development Support to advanced level Train The Trainer workshops.

If you are interested and want to no more feel free to get in touch with us at Platinum Training Consultants

For now, let us leave you with Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, which again highlights the effectiveness of using all human senses in the learning process.

Fig 6. The Cone of Experience:


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